Transforming lung cancer detection

A new scheme pioneered at Manchester is transforming lung cancer screening and giving patients a better chance of survival.

Global problem: detecting cancer’s biggest killer

The legacy of decades of smoking and socio-economic deprivation has resulted in Manchester having the highest rate of lung cancer death in the country and it kills more people under 75 than any other disease. The city, however, is not alone in its challenges with the disease – lung cancer is responsible for nearly one in five cancer deaths worldwide.

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Mortality rates are so high because the disease is notoriously difficult to detect in its early stages, causing no to very mild symptoms to be presented by patients. As a result, most people are not diagnosed until the lung cancer is advanced, leaving survival rates measured by a few months.

The challenge is to detect the disease as early as possible to help increase survival rates.

Manchester solution: Saving lives through earlier detection

Manchester has a reputation for excellence in lung cancer diagnostics, treatment and research – we are home to Cancer Research UK’s Lung Cancer Centre of Excellence. It was this strong reputation that led the Macmillan Cancer Improvement Partnership, funded by Macmillan Cancer Support, to task us with transforming outcomes for patients with lung cancer.

Dr Philip Crosbie, Clinical Senior Lecturer in Cancer Sciences at The University of Manchester and Consultant in Respiratory Medicine based at the University Hospital of South Manchester, led the study and says:

“When asked what needed to be done, with no hesitation we said ‘screening’. It was instant. Waiting for patients to present to us with symptomatic disease leaves things just too late. So it wasn’t a case of asking ‘what should we be doing?’ But more, what does the most effective screening model to increase early detection look like? How do we achieve good uptake in those most at risk?”

The team at Manchester realised that the solution to these challenges could only be found by making the process as easy as possible and to take screening out to the community – and that’s what they did.

“The success of the screening programme resulted in NHS England announcing that our Manchester screening model will be rolled out to other sites across the country. "

Dr Philip Crosbie / Clinical Senior Lecturer in Cancer Sciences

"We didn’t call it a lung cancer test because that’s frightening, we called it a lung health check,” explains Dr Crosbie. “These small but important changes worked. People came to see us and demand was very high. Indeed, the success of the screening programme resulted in NHS England announcing that our Manchester screening model will be rolled out to other sites across the country. We’ve achieved a national policy change by designing and delivering an innovative screening approach.”

Life-changing impacts

The University of Manchester’s research has helped to:

  • detect a three-fold incidence of lung cancers in the pilot scheme, as compared to the international average;
  • change national policy in regards to lung cancer screening by designing and delivering an innovative screening approach;
  • demonstrate an ability to move diagnosis from late to early stage disease, which is shifting the balance in survivorship by ensuring more people are diagnosed earlier;
  • improve screening uptake in harder-to-reach communities in need.

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